Iconicity versus grammaticalization: a case study

John Haiman

in The Oxford Handbook of Grammaticalization

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199586783
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Iconicity versus grammaticalization: a case study

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics



This article presents a case study concerning the differences between iconicity and grammaticalisation, focusing on the Hua and Khmer languages. It explains that among the universally acknowledged side-effects of economically motivated reduction in general and grammaticalization is the loss of semantic transparency and that one striking example of the trade-off between transparency and compactness is offered by the relatively exotic grammatical category of medial verbs commonly found in many Papuan languages. It contends that grammaticalisation through everyday use is the constant, cunning, and patient adversary of iconicity.

Keywords: iconicity; grammaticalisation; Hua language; Khmer language; semantic transparency; medial verbs; Papuan languages

Article.  4120 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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